Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley photo
Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is taking on the tech industry, including apps and tools aimed at children.

Hawley last week introduced legislation that would ban “pay-to-win” apps like Candy Crush that he said are targeted at children. The Kansas City Star reports the games are often free, but users can buy upgrades and bonus features.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction,” Hawley said in a statement announcing the bill. “And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

The bill is one in a series of moves the freshman Republican has made against the tech industry. In a recent speech to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution he questioned the value of social media and slammed the industry for profiting off the addiction of its users. And in other action last week, Hawley and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling on the agency to conclude its investigation into Facebook’s alleged violation of a 2011 consent agreement by improperly sharing data of 80 million users and to impose deterrent penalties.

Hawley had previously introduced a bill to restrict internet companies from collecting data from users under the age of 13.

Josh Golin, the executive director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, applauded Hawley.

“It is beyond unfair for developers to rig their games to manipulate children into making purchases themselves or nagging their parents to do so. Games that require additional payments to advance take advantage of children’s natural inclination to master new skills and compete,” Golin said in a statement.

Candy Crush, a popular puzzle game that Hawley’s office said has “a Candy Land style cartoon aesthetic,” is a key target of the bill. The app enables users to pay $149.99 for 24 hours of unlimited lives and other bonus features.

Activision, which distributes Candy Crush, declined to comment and deferred questions to the Entertainment Software Association, a video game industry trade group.

Stanley Pierre-Louis, acting president and CEO of the association, said in an email that apps already come with features meant to prevent kids from making purchases without parental consent.

Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, a group that represents the tech industry, called Hawley’s bill well-intentioned but overly broad. He said most of the games like Candy Crush are aimed at adults, and parents should be the ones to choose what games are appropriate for their children.


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